Jesse Schaffer ’17 was one of just 32 students in the nation to participate in NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program, a highly competitive initiative that provides students with a hands-on research experience in a major scientific campaign.
The eight-week program began in Palmdale, Calif., where students toured NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and assisted in a mission on NASA’s DC-8 – “a highly modified jetliner that serves as a flying science laboratory,” explains Schaffer. Along with other students, Schaffer helped with the operation of DC-8 instruments which sample atmospheric gases and sample solar radiation.
For the remaining six weeks of the program in Irving, Calif., he conducted a research project “Examining Temporal Patterns in Evapotranspiration and Vegetation Cover in Santa Barbara County” that culminated with a presentation of his findings. Working alongside a professor and a graduate student from the University of California Santa Barbara, Schaffer’s research focused on evapotranspiration – the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by transpiration from plants.
“My study involved examining temporal patterns in evapotranspiration cover in Santa Barbara County, California over the course of the current drought,” explains Schaffer.
He also attended a number of lectures from world-renowned astronomers and toured NASA’s cutting-edge research facilities, providing him with an invaluable experience that helped redefine his academic interests and career goals.
“Participating in this program helped open my eyes to a number of different science related fields. I feel my possible career path has widened significantly and maybe one day I’ll even be working for NASA,” says the geoscience major with minors in math, physics and environmental studies.
Schaffer credits his coursework and a previous summer research experience with Assistant Professor of Geoscience David Finkelstein with giving him the necessary preparation for the program. “Without having the previous research opportunity I would not have had the experience needed to get into NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program.”